Queen Anne in Hastings

A tale of royalty, St Pauls Cathedral, an Antiquarian and a horse drawn train

The statue of Queen Anne outside the west entrance of St Paul’s Cathedral in London is one of the city’s more famous public sculptures.  But did you know that it is not the original?

Queen Anne Statue
Queen Anne Statue at St Paul’s Cathedral

The original statue was made by Francis Bird and unveiled in 1712.  However time was not kind.  Weather and vandalism caused damage to Anne and all four of her attendants (Britannia, “Ireland”, “France” and “America”).

By 1885 a decision was made to make a replica of the statue which was erected in the same location as the original in the following year.  But what had happened to the original Anne?

Augustus Hare was a traveller and writer and collector of Antiquities.  He was desperate to discover what happened to Anne and spent two years trying to locate her.  Eventually a friend of his stumbled upon some curious figures in a masons yard near Vauxhall Bridge Road and called for Augustus.  Sure enough it was Anne and her companions.  After negotiations with the City Council and the other owners; the Lord Mayor of London and the Bishops of London and Canterbury, Augustus was able to purchase the statues with a view to re-erecting them in his grounds at Holmhurst St. Mary on the edge of Hastings.

He decided that the plinth was too far gone to be re-used and commissioned a replacement to be made from the materials in his own local quarry.  The five ladies however had to be transported South.  Mr. Hare spoke with the directors of the South East Railway Company who identified an issue:

“It is no use talking about it for the statue of the Queen could not go under any of our tunnels!’ ‘But she could lie down’. ‘No, she cannot lie down, she has too much train”

However, eventually, a plan was contrived by which the Queen leant forward and she eventually arrived at Holmhurst with four trucks, four trollies, sixteen men and twenty-eight horses. Each of the four ladies sat in a separate wagon.  The Queen’s railway ticket was £50.

“A strange procession they made”

Once in place at Hastings the ladies were all patched and repaired.  However even in his own time, as Augustus Hare wrote (I am not sure of the date) they began to suffer again:

“Winters’ storms have worn all the reproductions away and only the original marble remains. The Queen has now lost both her arms; fragments of them, her orb and sceptre, are in the verandah of the house. Ireland is far the best of the statues; she formerly held a harp. The American Colony statue is almost wholly undraped; a little beast of Lizard type creeps from behind her feet which rest upon the gory head of an enemy.”

The statue has continued to sit in ignominy in the grounds of Holmhurst St. Mary.  By the start of the twentieth century the house and grounds were neglected.  It was taken over by a group of nuns and also became a school for girls; finally closing around the turn of this century.

Queen Anne has continued to remain uncared for and left to weather further.  She was listed in 1976 but nothing has happened to improve her circumstances and now she is marked as being as in very bad condition on the Historic England heritage at risk register.

She remains in the grounds of Holmhurst St Mary.  A scaffold and corrugated iron sarcophagus has been placed around the statue to try and limit further deterioration.  And that is how I found her today when, cycling past the site, and having learned of her exact location, I snuck in to take a look.  The casing surrounding her is properly closed off and I didn’t make any attempt to force access.  I was though able to get a look at Anne and (three of) her companions from a gap between two scaffold poles.

So, after such an eventful life, I give you here, in her present state and more than 300 years since she first proudly graced the entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral, a headless Queen Anne and her (also headless) companions:

Queen Anne at Holmhurst St Mary
Queen Anne at Holmhurst St Mary